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Altered Landscape: COVID-19 & Media

The uncertainties still surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic make it unclear how long the outbreak will last & what the extent will be, however, there is no doubt it has impacted the entire media landscape from television & streaming services to digital & OOH, & will continue to do so as the virus continues to spread.  

The world came to a standstill in March with major sporting events, conferences, & large gatherings canceled or postponed. Local businesses & restaurants took a major hit as well with MarketWatch reporting that 55% of closed businesses on Yelp have now permanently locked their doors. Additionally, consumers are less likely to be frequenting malls, shopping centers, movie theatres, public venues, & more, even if they are open for business, making it hard for profits to be made. All these components are connected & are impacted from a media standpoint.

What Impact Will COVID-19 Have on Digital Advertising? 

We are seeing a rise in digital media consumption in areas including education, government, & retail due to the number of people being quarantined in their homes. Online purchases & web traffic are increasing daily & people are looking to the web to help with homeschooling & staying in the know. As of the most recent update by Comscore, digital visits for education-related content have increased by 18%, with government- & retail-related content increases of 299% & 11%, respectively. Although certain areas of media are booming right now due to the pandemic, others aren’t increasing in kind. Digital visits for financial services are down 2%, with declines of 43% & 34% respectively for investment- & travel-related visits, according to reports from Comscore. When profits take a dive, so does digital advertising.

“Comscore reports that digital visits for education-related content have increased by 18%, with government- & retail-related content increases of 299% & 11%, respectively.”

Comscore, March 30, 2020

Industries that rely on shipments from China, Europe, the USA, or other highly affected areas will continue to run into issues. It’s crucial for advertisers to monitor inventory & production to help plan out future advertising campaigns in the coming months. Advertisers must be ready to adapt to this ever-changing financial climate. Consumers are primarily shopping & ordering food online & travel is nearly non-existent. Governmental messaging & recommendations to stifle the spread of the virus seem to change daily & advertising content must be adjusted to fit the scenario. Our media department has noted frequent changes in ad placements are necessary to ensure our client’s customers see their content.

One key component that will help advertisers in this unprecedented time will be the ability to adapt. Staying in the know, understanding rapidly changing consumer behaviors, & keeping up with trends will guide future marketing moves. What we do know for certain is that the stay-at-home movement will only continue to increase media & television consumption. Knowing this, advertisers can strategically place ads to reach these consumers & connect with them in a way that builds trust & fosters brand loyalty.

TV Consumption During COVID-19 

With more people at home for longer periods of time, the consumption of broadcast & streaming television has increased dramatically. ComScore reported that last year, viewership levels would peak & then level off around 8 a.m. until the early fringe daypart. However, this year, viewership continues to grow until noon, suggesting that people start about the same time & are sticking around to watch local news channels longer into the day. This shift has contributed to a 31.3% increase in daytime viewership compared to the same time in 2019.

Similarly, viewership increased even more into the early fringe hours at 35.2% compared to 2019. Consequently, the big four broadcast stations have seen a 19% increase in viewership compared to the same week in March 2019. Overall, combined advertising in most major industries decreased compared to this time last year. National television managed to hold steady until the week of March 16, when it saw a 4% decrease in advertising compared to 2019.

“There has been a 31.3% increase in daytime viewership compared to the same time in 2019.”

Comscore, March 25, 2020

Most heavily affected by sports content, ad spots on television are taking a large hit. Not surprisingly, the travel & tourism category has drastically cut advertising, seeing as much as an 80% decrease in national advertisements compared to last year. Similarly, medical services & supplies & the restaurant categories saw as much as a 29% & 17% decrease, respectively. There was a massive spike in retail advertising during the week of March 9 (an increase of 25%) followed by a 10% decline on March 16. Due to canceled sports buys in linear TV, reinvesting those dollars into OTT helped make up for lost TRPs.

For advertisers that continue to place ads on television, take note of the following observations from SpotX:

  • Ads shift away from promotion-driven messaging & toward brand values
  • Ads include heavy rebate offers
  • Advertisers are holding back spend & waiting on stabilization
  • Advertisers are being selective & even blacklisting news content

How is COVID-19 Affecting Print Advertising? 

Traditional marketing will be hit the hardest during the COVID-19 crisis, & print is no exception. Currently, the expected ROI on print advertising is low for a variety of reasons. Early in the crisis, consumers believed claims that the virus could potentially spread via snail mail. Additionally, while consumers are home to receive print advertising if the call-to-action is to visit a storefront, they likely aren’t going to be moved. Additionally, stay-at-home orders have mandated essential trips only such as to the grocery store, pharmacy, & occasionally an essential business with a reliable drive-thru or curbside pickup option.  

“Print needs to stand out in order to capture attention.”

If the business is pushing the right messaging, then print can still be valuable. Consider that consumers are making choices about where they want to spend their precious hours out of the house: Why should they pick your restaurant or grocery store? Many consumers, particularly older generations, are not engrossed with digital media at this time, making print a great way to reach them. Regardless of a brand’s media strategy, if advertisers want to run print during a crisis – it needs to stand out in order to capture attention.

Many print options are still available & will be throughout the crisis. But publications out of smaller, rural areas, such as local newspapers, may not make it. It’s worth noting that brands rely on these publications to reach less-populated regions of the country. But the drop in advertising in those newspapers could mean that publications “go dark” due to the lack of funds – right now, revenue does not outweigh production costs. According to The New York Times, COVID-19 has shaken the print industry & its already weakened economic foundation. History suggests that while print advertising has previously been able to bounce back from economic hardship, it may not this time.

Out-of-Home When We’re All Inside 

Out-of-Home ad spending has been negatively impacted worldwide because of the social distancing & isolation measures that have emerged in almost every city & country. Consumers are actively avoiding large public places & gatherings, that will eventually if hasn’t already, impact our willingness to advertise in public spaces. What marketers can do is maintain strong relationships with clients & provide them with alternative & strategic ways to still get their brands out there & on the consumer’s radar.  

“Marketers will want to consider having clients that use OOH to lean toward a more digital-focused strategy.”

With a scattershot national response to contain the virus, the coming months are uncertain; but some brands are announcing new ad spend & projections that seem to indicate hope for a rebound in Q3. In most countries, including ours, the bulk of ad spending takes place in the latter part of the year for the holiday season. While we don’t know how long COVID-19 may last, marketers will want to consider having clients that use OOH to lean toward a more digital-focused strategy with most of the population predominantly at home.

Right now, marketing is a delicate juggling act that must balance brand tone, personality, & consumer concerns with the current climate. Finding the right balance means looking at what your customers want & what your industry is doing. All aspects of the media landscape have seen sweeping changes & some brands have been able to capitalize on the newly affordable cost of various advertising outlets. We hope this information has provided some guidance on how advertising is operating right now & how you can better plan your campaigns to reach more people & begin developing new customer relationships for the next phase of the crisis.